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RESEARCHER UNCOVERS THREE MORE OLD BOYS LOST IN BATTLE

The identities of three more Old Paradians lost in The Great War have been discovered more than 100 years after each made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of King and country.

As the solemn day of remembrance that is Anzac Day nears, the identities of the three young men - all schooled at the ‘Old Bluestone Pile’ in Victoria Parade East Melbourne - have come to light through the research of the Old Paradian Peter Scott (1950).

Peter discovered their tragically short life stories having scoured digitised editions of The Advocate and The Tribune Catholic newspapers of the day via Trove.

The three soldiers are:

Fitzroy’s Sgt. John Christopher Nolan, 25, of the 20th AIF Battalion, killed in action in France on November 12, 1916;

Richmond’s Cpl. John (“Jack”) Chisholm Macdonald, 25, of the 23rd AIF Battalion, killed in action in France on May 3, 1917; and

Elsternwick’s Sgt. Francis Thomas Aloysius Edwards, 30, of the 39th Battalion (pictured) killed in action in France on August 30, 1918.

 

Sgt. John Christopher Nolan (4492)

Born in Brunswick and an electroplater by profession, Sgt. Nolan, a footballer of some renown, followed his cousin Pte. John B. Nolan to the battlefields of Europe.

On September 5, 1916, Sgt. Nolan, together with members of the 5th Training battalion, boarded a ship bound for France via England. Twelve days later, he joined 11th Reinforcements of the 20th Battalion in Belgium.

But within eight weeks – and just nine days after Pte. Nolan lost his life fighting with the 29th Battalion - Sgt. Nolan would also be dead, killed in the field in Fleur, France.

A fellow soldier, Pte. Peter Bennett of Helensburgh in New South Wales, said he saw Pte. Nolan climb out of a trench “and go a few yards” at Fleurs trenches on the evening of November 12, 1916.

“He was caught in the back by a sniper’s bullet and died about ten minutes after,” Pte. Bennett told a subsequent enquiry.

“He was buried on the same date he was killed and on the same spot. I saw his grave myself with a wooden cross with his name on.

“I was a runner with messages and Nolan, who was also one, offered to go in my place as I had trench feet.”

There was a cruel post script to this story. Due to an administrative error, confirmation of Sgt. Nolan’s death wasn’t directly conveyed to the soldier’s father John Nolan sen., who first learned of his son’s demise through the newspaper.

On January 18, 1917, The Advocate carried the following tribute to Sgt. Nolan:

 

We extend our sincere sympathy to Mr. J.C. Nolan, of St. Patrick’s Society, in the death of his third son, Private J.C. Nolan, who was killed in action on the 12th November last.

The deceased was a grandson of the late Mr. Michael O’Meara, of Fitzroy, who was for many years a well-known figure in Catholic and national circles, a brother of Frank Nolan of Clifton Hill, and Michael Nolan of Sydney, and nephew of Sister Pancratius, of the Girls’ Orphanage, South Melbourne.

The deceased, who was 25 years of age, was educated at the Christian Brothers’ College, Victoria Parade. R.I.P.

 

Cpl. John (“Jack”) Chisholm Macdonald (3901)

Cpl. Macdonald was born in the leafy eastern suburb of Hawthorn, although nothing is known of his formative years.

In March 1916, Cpl. Macdonald disembarked the HT Oriana in Alexandria then boarded a connecting vessel. A few weeks later he joined his unit in Etaples.

Having been hospitalised for a period in Rouen with a hernia complaint, Cpl. Macdonald rejoined his unit in Etaples. Then on May 12, 1917, Cpl. Macdonald of the 23rd Battalion was reported missing in action. A few days later, a Court of Enquiry determined that he had been killed.

Sometime later, base records were informed that Cpl. Macdonald might not have been killed, but rather taken prisoner of war in Soltau, Germany. However, it was determined that Cpl. Macdonald had been confused with Sgt. J. McDonald of the 13th Light Horse, who was interned at Soltau.

On August 9, 1917, The Tribune reported Cpl. Macdonald’s death as follows:

 

Genuine sympathy has been tendered to Mrs. Margaret Macdonald and family, of 20 Darlington-parade, Richmond, on the announcement of the sad news, just received, of the death of the younger son, who was killed in action in France on the 3rd May last. The late Corporal Macdonald was a popular young man in Richmond Catholic circles, being an enthusiastic sport, belonging at various times, to the St. Ignatius cricket, football land tennis clubs.

His father, Mr. John Macdonald, was a most respected business man of Richmond, and died three years ago.

“Jack” as he was familiarly known to his intimate friends, was an ardent worker of the Richmond Catholic club, and also of the “4 T’s” (temperance) society associated with St. Ignatius’ Church, Richmond. He enlisted in July 1915, along with a batch of fine young men from the Catholic club. After completing a course of training, he left Australia in February 1916. The “Old Paradians” (Christian Brothers’ College, East Melbourne), where the young soldier finished his education, deeply deplored the loss of their old college chum and companion, and the Catholic club, also, was proud of him as a member, and conveyed their appreciation of the high esteem in which he was held by writing to say that they were arranging for a Mass for the repose of his soul.

Prior to enlisting, corporal Macdonald was in the employ of the Neptune Oil Co. in their Melbourne office, and, in tendering the sincere condolence of the company to Mrs. Macdonald and family, the secretary stated that “they were proud that one of their employees had the courage, when necessity arose, to go out and fight for those near and dear, and that, though painful as the heavy trial undoubtedly was, nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that his death was a glorious one, and he himself a hero, of whom his country was justly and undeniably proud”. R.I.P.

 

Sgt. Francis Thomas Aloysius Edwards (1649)

The Carlton-born Sgt. Edwards, a clerk who gave his home address as “Araluen” in Elsternwick’s Gisborne Street, was 28 years of age when he enlisted on February 5, 1916.

After a period in England with the 10th Training Battalion through 1916 and most of 1917, Sgt. Edwards proceeded to France where in October of that year he joined the 39th Battalion.

On August 30, 1918, about 10 weeks before Germany’s signing of The Armistice, Sgt. Edwards’s life was cruelly taken.

Sgt. C. Loxton of the 39th Battalion A Company, in a statement to the AIF in Le Havre in April 1919, said the following:

“I saw Sgt. Edwards (A.Coy. H.Q. was acting C/S/M) killed instantly by h.e. shell (hit badly in the head) near Curlu in a dugout, abt. 6.p.m (August 30, 1918). Lieut. Lefevre and Pte. Davis were killed in the same shell. He was buried at Corbic.”

The Advocate carried the following tribute to Sgt. Edwards on September 21, 1918.

 

We much regret to learn of the death of Sergeant Francis T.A. Edwards, who was killed in action in France on 30th August. He was the only son of Mr. F. and Mrs. A. Edwards. of Elsternwick.

Much sympathy has gone out to the bereaved ones. Last Sunday, reference was made in the churches of the Balaclava parish to the loss sustained by the family of the late soldier. The Rev. J. Collins, P.P., at the Church of the Holy Angels, and the Rev. M.J. Gleeson, B.A., at St Joseph’s Church, Orrong Road, made sympathetic reference to the sad event, and asked the prayers of the congregation for the eternal repose of the young soldier’s soul.

Mr. Frank Edwards is well known in Catholic and Irish national circles in Melbourne, and gives his services to St. Patrick’s Day celebration year in, year out. Many a Pater and Ave will be offered for the repose of his only son’s soul.

He was born at Melbourne, and was an old Christian Brothers’ boy, being educated at the Christian Brothers’ College, East Melbourne. He enlisted in February 1915, and sailed by the Ascanino in May as Corporal in the 39th Battalion, 10th Brigade, and promoted sergeant on arrival in England, and attached to headquarters staff at Salisbury, where he attended an officers’ school. After several requests, he was sent to France last October, and was in the firing line to the day of his death. He was well-known as an elocutionist, being a member of the Melbourne Shakespeare Society. R.I.P.

 

Sgt. Edwards was posthumously recommended for the Military Medal based on his “gallantry and devotion to duty during action” actions five days prior to his death. A Major General filed the following recommendation about a week after Sgt. Edwards’s demise due to the fact that the stress of military operations had prevented him from doing so earlier:

 

On the night of the 24th/25th August two companies were advancing along the road in enemy country towards the village of Suzanne when the company got to within 500 yards of the objective fire was opened on it by rifles and a machine gun from an enemy post in the wood on the left side of the road, and our troops had to halt and take cover.

Sgt. Edwards, who was in control of a platoon at the time, immediately got one of his Lewis guns in action firing on the enemy post, with the result that several of the enemy were either killed or wounded, and the remainder of the garrison fled leaving their gun.

The prompt action undoubtedly saved heavy casualties to the two Companies and the objective was gained without any further resistance. The prompt action of this N.C.C. saved a critical situation and his conduct was most exemplary through the whole operation.

 

Sgt. Edwards was posthumously awarded the Military Medal by special order on October 26, 1918.

The number of Old Paradians killed in action in World War I now stands at 36. Prior to the discoveries of Sgt Edwards, Cpl. Macdonald and Sgt. Nolan, the 33 Old Boys known to have been killed in The Great War were profiled for the book With Hearts and Courage by the late Maureen De Bolfo.

The book is available in hardback for $40 through the Association here

The names of Sgt Edwards, Cpl. Macdonald and Sgt. Nolan will be added to the Association’s World War I Honour Board in due course.